RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And at his stops in Michigan yesterday, Rick Santorum spoke of economic revival through low taxes, fewer regulations and his commitment to conservative family values.
Here's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Rick Santorum can't outspend Romney in Michigan, and he's facing a barrage of ads on radio and TV paid for by the pro-Romney superPAC Restore Our Future. The ads attack Santorum's U.S. Senate record.
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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Santorum voted to raise the debt limit five times, and for billions in wasteful projects, including the Bridge to Nowhere. In a single session, Santorum co-sponsored 51 bills...
GONYEA: To counter this, Santorum is telling his own story, introducing himself to the state. He was on WJR Radio yesterday morning. The interview opened with some playful talk of the hockey rivalry between Santorum's Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings. Then came politics. The interviewer is Frank Beckmann.
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FRANK BECKMANN: Don't you have to sort of pinch yourself to realize you're leading four polls here in Michigan?
RICK SANTORUM: Yeah, you know what? You know, Frank, when I was on your show how many times and you would ask me, you know, why are you still in this race because you're so down in the polls, I said don't pay attention to the polls.
GONYEA: In the noon hour, Santorum was at the prestigious Detroit Economic Club. The crowd was quiet as he spoke of how he would have denied U.S. carmakers General Motors and Chrysler federal aid that helped them survive. His position is the same as Mitt Romney's, but Santorum said there is a difference.
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SANTORUM: Governor Romney supported the bailout of Wall Street and decided not to support the bailout of Detroit. My feeling was that we should not support - the government should not be involved in bailouts, period.
GONYEA: That's a direct appeal for Tea Party votes. One thing you almost never hear on the GOP campaign trail is a mention of President George W. Bush. But Santorum brought him up yesterday in a negative light, noting that it was Bush who started the bailouts.
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SANTORUM: I actually blame President Bush more than I do President Obama. President Obama is just following suit. President Bush set the precedent. It was the wrong precedent.
GONYEA: In the audience was David Smith, the financial advisor who says right now, he's 75 percent sure Santorum will get his vote.
DAVID SMITH: I like that I think he represents the core values for Middle America, on his social issues, on his issues on government. He speaks his heart, and his stances today are the same stance that he's had for the last 25 years.
GONYEA: At diners and coffee shops across southeast Michigan yesterday, voters were looking at newspaper headlines proclaiming Santorum's lead in the polls. In Ypsilanti, 61-year-old unemployed worker Steve Lambert said he won't make up his mind until he's done more homework. But he does describe Santorum's conservative credentials as the most reliable. He just doesn't know enough about him.
STEVE LAMBERT: Now, the question comes in is can he get financing, and can he effectively debate Barack Obama and fight the news media?
GONYEA: Lambert says those are open questions at this point. Last night, Santorum was in the Romney stronghold of Oakland County for the local Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day dinner. He ended his usual stump speech with a tribute to the contributions Michigan and the auto industry have made in building the country.
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SANTORUM: Show America that you're not done building here in Detroit. Show America that our best days are ahead of us. Nominate someone who has that bold vision, who has the strength of character, who has the bold plan to build America.
GONYEA: It was an appeal to history and to pride, bringing a rousing end to a full day for the unlikely frontrunner in the state. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Detroit.
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